U.S.

Report says accurate number of children separated at border is unknown

By Catholic News Service
January 23, 2019

WASHINGTON (CNS) — A report published Jan. 17 says the number of immigrant children separated from their parents at the border last year is unknown and the number given out by government officials at the end of 2018, saying that 2,737 children were separated, is not accurate. The number may be much higher.

The separations officially reported were those that took place between July and November 2018, when then-U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced what he called a zero-tolerance policy, which meant that undocumented migrant parents caught crossing the border with their children would risk being separated from them. After some lawsuits were filed and much public outcry, the policy was reversed.

But the report from the Office of Inspector General at the Department of Health and Human Services, says children had been separated from parents or guardians long before then and the Department of Homeland Security, which implemented the policy, even saw an uptick in separations in 2017. Some children may also have been separated after the policy officially ended.

Several Catholic bishops last year spoke out against the separations.

“Refugee children belong to their parents, not to the government or other institution. To steal children from their parents is a grave sin, immoral (and) evil,” said San Antonio’s Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller on June 14 via Twitter. “Their lives have already been extremely difficult. Why do we (the U.S.) torture them even more, treating them as criminals?” he continued.

Catholic organizations such as the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services and Catholic Charities USA helped reunite some of the families in the summer and fall of 2018. They were among the faith organizations that helped provide food, shelter and facilities to reunite the children with their parents once again.

The report says the real number of separations may run into the thousands, but it’s hard to pin down accurate information because of a poor tracking system and poor communication among the agencies that were involved. The office took on the task of looking at the numbers of children separated, the inspector general report said, “given the potential impact of these actions on vulnerable children.”

Topics:

  • immigration
  • migration

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